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At worlds, U.S. ice dancers chase medals they missed at Olympics

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A question nagged at Madison Hubbell as she came home from the PyeongChang Olympics.

How do you let it go and move on?

Hubbell and her ice dance partner, Zachary Donohue, dropped from third after the Olympic short dance to fourth overall, struggling in the free dance. Donohue fell from one knee, putting his hands on the ice late in the program.

Canadians Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir took gold and French Gabriella Papadakis and Guillaume Cizeron the silver, to no surprise.

The bronze, considered up for grabs among the three U.S. couples, went to siblings Maia Shibutani and Alex Shibutani, who also earned bronze in the team event, skating both programs. The Shibutanis lost to Hubbell and Donohue for the first time at nationals in January but were given first pick in the team event because they had better international standing.

So neither Hubbell and Donohue nor two-time world medalists Madison Chock and Evan Bates, who tangled skates and fell in their Olympic free dance, made a podium in PyeongChang.

“That was something we really wanted, and I really believe had we skated our best we would have been third,” Hubbell told NBC Sports research last week.

Virtue and Moir and the Shibutanis both withdrew from this week’s world championships, a common move for Olympic medalists at the post-Olympic worlds.

That makes Papadakis and Cizeron clear favorites in Milan. Hubbell and Donohue and Chock and Bates could both also make the podium as they begin paths to the 2022 Olympics.

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“We have moved on,” from finishing ninth at the Olympics, Chock said, “but it’s definitely going to stay with us and we’ll use it as fuel.”

Chock and Bates had the chance to lead the charge into PyeongChang after Sochi gold medalists Meryl Davis and Charlie White stepped away from competition.

They topped the 2015 World Championships short dance but were passed by Papadakis and Cizeron in the free. In 2016, the Shibutanis overtook them at nationals. In 2017, they dropped to seventh at worlds with Bates erring on twizzles in their free. Now ninth at the Olympics.

Chock and Bates took two weeks off the ice after their free dance (including when Chock was ill after they got home; she is also bothered by loose bone fragments in her ankle that require post-worlds surgery). Messages of support poured in during that time, including a memorable note from a woman who works with Bates’ dad.

“She said my son has cerebral palsy, and I see him fall down and get up all the time. Seeing your son and his partner, the way they got up was a great example,” Bates said.

Hubbell and Donohue shared coaches and Montreal training ice with Virtue and Moir and Papadakis and Cizeron before the Olympics. They go into worlds remembering advice from the Canadians, who are expected to retire.

“We were really lucky to have Tessa and Scott all year telling us that the month after Olympics trying to get ready for worlds was ‘the worst month of your life,'” Hubbell said. “So we kind of felt prepared for it to be like Armageddon.”

Hubbell and Donohue were also in third place after the short dance at the 2017 World Championships. There, like in PyeongChang, Donohue fell during their free dance, and they finished out of the medals (ninth) with the Shibutanis moving up to bronze.

“I wish the Shibutanis were [in Milan] because last year I gave them my medal,” Donohue said, “and I don’t plan on doing that this year.”

No Virtue and Moir. No Shibutanis. Would it make a medal this week any less prestigious?

“Years from now no one will remember who was there and who wasn’t,” Bates said. “A world medal is a world medal.”

Key Short Dance Start Times (Friday ET)
Kaitlin Hawayek/Jean-Luc Baker (USA) — 9:42 a.m.
Madison Chock/Evan Bates (USA) — 10:23 a.m.
Madison Hubbell/Zachary Donohue (USA) — 10:30 a.m.
Anna Cappellini/Luca Lanotte (ITA) — 10:37 a.m.
Kaitlyn Weaver/Andrew Poje (CAN) — 10:43 a.m.
Gabriella Papadakis/Guillaume Cizeron (FRA) — 10:50 a.m.

NBC Sports figure skating researcher Sarah Hughes contributed to this report.

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MORE: Best figure skating moments from PyeongChang

April Ross, Alix Klineman back atop Olympic beach volleyball qualifying

April Ross, Alix Klineman
FIVB World Tour
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Two-time Olympic medalist April Ross and new partner Alix Klineman moved back on top of the U.S. Olympic beach volleyball qualifying standings by winning an event in Itapema, Brazil this week.

Ross, who split from Kerri Walsh Jennings in 2017, and Klineman beat Canadians Sarah Pavan and Melissa Humana-Paredes 25-23, 18-21, 15-10 in Sunday’s final for their third title in 11 FIVB World Tour tournaments together.

“Every victory is important, but this counts for more,” Klineman said, according to the FIVB. “We want to send a message and we want to be consistently the best.

Ross and Klineman supplanted Walsh Jennings and her new partner, Brooke Sweat, for the lead in the early U.S. Olympic qualifying rankings with still more than a year of events ahead.

1. Ross/Klineman – 3,240 (5 events played)
2. Walsh Jennings/Sweat – 3,100 (7 events)
3. Day/Flint – 2,180 (5 events)
4. Hughes/Ross — 2,000 (4 events)
5. Larsen/Stockman — 1,840 (5 events)
6. Sponcil/Claes — 1,600 (3 events)

Each team’s 12 best results from Sept. 1, 2018, to June 14, 2020, go into the Olympic qualifying rankings. That means Ross and Klineman are comfortably in front, having played two fewer events than Walsh Jennings and Sweat, who lost in the quarterfinals in Itapema.

The top two U.S. pairs come June 15, 2020, provided they’re ranked high enough internationally, will qualify for Tokyo. Most of the qualifying events, including the ones with the most points available, are still to come this summer.

Ross, 36, picked up Klineman, 29, after Walsh Jennings didn’t join her in signing a domestic AVP contract in 2017. The 6-foot-5 Klineman primarily played indoor the previous decade, including at Stanford from 2007-10 after being the Gatorade National Player of the Year coming out of high school.

MORE: Brazil volleyball star faints during courtside interview

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Katie Ledecky extends 5-year win streak

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Katie Ledecky extended a five-year domestic win streak by taking the 200m freestyle at the Tyr Pro Swim Series at Bloomington on Saturday.

In her last full meet before July’s world championships, Ledecky clocked 1:55.80 to beat training partner Simone Manuel by 1.44 seconds for her second win in as many days. Ledecky is also entered in Sunday’s 800m free on the last day of the meet.

Ledecky, who also cruised to a 400m free victory on Friday, ranks third in the world in the 200m free this year, behind Australian Ariarne Titmus and Swede Sarah Sjöström (the Olympic silver medalist who is not expected to race the 200m free at worlds).

Ledecky, a five-time Olympic champion, hasn’t lost a 200m, 400m, 800m or 1500m free final at a domestic meet since Allison Schmitt beat her in a 200m free on Jan. 18, 2014 when Ledecky was 16 years old.

BLOOMINGTON: Full Results

But Ledecky lost the two biggest 200m frees of this Olympic cycle so far, at the 2017 World Championships and the 2018 Pan Pacific Championships. Italian veteran Federica Pellegrini handed Ledecky her first individual final defeat at a major international meet at 2017 Worlds.

Ledecky dropped to third in the 200m free at Pan Pacs in Tokyo last year, beaten by younger swimmers Taylor Ruck of Canada and Rikako Ikee of Japan.

Ruck, who like Ledecky trains at Stanford, is in Bloomington, but she chose not to swim the 200m free on Saturday. She instead swam the 200m backstroke about 45 minutes after the 200m free and was upset by 17-year-old Regan Smith. Smith won in 2:06.47, moving to No. 3 in the world this year.

In other events Saturday, Ella Eastin captured the 400m individual medley in 4:37.18, taking 1.25 seconds off her personal best and moving to fifth in the world this year. Eastin is not on the world championships team after an untimely bout with mono before qualifying meets last summer.

Blake Pieroni won the men’s 200m free in 1:47.25. No American ranks in the top 20 in the world this year. World silver medalist Townley Haas did not enter Bloomington.

MORE: Olympic breaststroke champion faces ban for missed drug tests

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